It’s time to stop rationing home care

Benetas is calling on the Australian government to stop the delay and properly fund home care services for older Australians in need.

Every day the government delays is an untenable risk for older Australians, writes CEO Sandra Hills.

Sandra Hills

In the wake of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s significant hearings this month to reform Australia’s home care system, Benetas is calling on the Australian government to stop the delay and properly fund home care services for older Australians in need.

More than 100,000 older Australians who have been formally assessed and approved for home care gackages are still waiting to be granted access to one of the finite packages currently made available. 

Put simply, that is thousands of older people who will be waiting for up to two years to receive the essential services and care they need to live and age safely at home.

By not receiving their home care package, older Australians are being denied affordable access to wound treatment, in-home nursing, support for showering and personal care. They’re also being denied affordable supports to access the shops or receive meal delivery to reduce the domestic load.

This is without doubt, an untenable situation for so many in our community.

The vast majority of Australians wish to age in their own home. However, as the royal commission heard last week, 19 per cent of Australians aged over 80 are moved out of their home and into residential aged care – this is the highest proportion in the developed world.

Senior Counsel Assisting the royal commission Peter Gray made it clear that if people do not get the home care that they are approved for and need, they face a much higher risk of deteriorating, being admitted to hospital and prematurely requiring residential aged care.

This is not a cost-effective approach, and it is certainly not a sustainable one given the significant pressure and strain the aged care and health care sectors are already facing.

As a civil society, we must be thinking much earlier about supports we put in place for a positive ageing journey. Benetas and Monash University research in 2018 highlighted the need for preventative measures to proactively address early signs of frailty before a serious health decline occurs.

It also found that one in two Australians over the age of 60 who live in their own home are at risk of a relatively minor health issue triggering a serious decline. The stakes and risks get much higher when considering a COVID-19 world.

Research Benetas published last month further identified the lack of confidence that older people have with their home care packages. Not only do they lack confidence about getting access to these services in a timely way, they also lack confidence in how to utilise the package fully and draw on the services they need to maximise their health and wellbeing over time.

It’s like being offered the mobile phone to stay connected, going through months of paperwork, and at the end of it, realising you can’t connect to the network.

It is essential for the Australian government to not only allocate more Home Care Packages to meet the growing demands of our ageing population but also, support individuals to activate their package fully and comprehensively.  

As a not-for-profit home care provider, we have not only invested in research in this space and reformed the delivery of our services during COVID-19, but we have invested over $2 million into the development of the Positive Ageing Tool for older Australians to monitor their frailty levels.

We also continue to allocate significant communication and marketing resources to communicate to those who have packages, and guide them on how best to navigate this endlessly complicated system. Something we’ve found increasingly important for our clients over the past months.

It’s time for the Australian government to also step up and play its part.

The 6,000 additional packages the government announced this July are welcomed. But they are nowhere near enough to serve the 100,000 waitlist that older Australians face. The additional access to Commonwealth Health Services Program for aged care residents who are temporarily being cared for at home is welcomed. But again, it is far from enough.

The sector needs to be more client centred and customer focused when it comes to serving older Australians and providing them with the care they need. By playing such a pivotal role in the allocation of home care packages, our government is a key partner to do just that and ensure older Australians are given the resources they need to age at home for as long as they wish.    

*Sandra Hills is chief executive officer of Victorian aged care provider Benetas.

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